• Elijah J. Graham

The Substratum of Superstition

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

It seems as if my life has been entirely hijacked by these damned superstitions. How is it that what is barely real can manifest itself into existence? What the hell does ‘splitting the pole’ mean and why can’t I swallow my gum? It’s already in my mouth, I think it would be best to finish what I started.

Sure, gum swallowing is more an issue of health than superstition but I didn’t finish that part of school and, like the half-digested hot dog I so foolishly purchased along with the aforementioned gum, the issue was bothering me enough to bring it up.

Providentially, I had felt this urge coming and was able to pull over before making a mess of my poor vehicle’s year-round weather mats. I dreaded the idea of my fortune running out and exited the vehicle, but before my disgorged retch could reach the plush, grassy knoll alongside the highway, it splashed my most comfortable pair of shoes into new texture that could not have been purchased.

Might I add that all of my shoes are my most comfortable pairs of shoes. I do not waste my time in buying tactless items, unknowing of their ulterior effect on my life. I wear one type— one brand and model of shoe and I do not deviate. However, I do get different colors, and the color I had chosen this morning just so happened to be my favorite.

I hung my head for a moment, watching the slippery mess slide off of the toe and onto the soles’ sides. I wondered if this was all that life would be for me: watching the substances meant to sustain my life from the inside make a monstrosity out of the most contaminated parts of my outside. And then I raised my head back up because it started to stink.

The most vile odor was created and there were less than numerical chances of me tracking these soiled soles back into my car. My predicament had granted me two options and could not make them any more clear. Either I would bring in a clean pair of shoes or I would lose my favorite pair of my most comfortable footwear.

I figured there had to be some collection of water nearby to cleanse the mess from my dope kicks. This highway had been virtually surrounded by wildlife so I saw no reason for water to be absent.

It was also dark, though I did not know what time it was. It was a part of the countryside that had been less populated than a small town, so the stars were as evident as the moon. This crowdedness in the sky offered menial illumination and therefore, visibility.

While wandering through the wooded maze in pursuit of water, the leaves did not crunch under my feet. They felt mushy. Every step I took depressed the dirt and mud lower into the packed in terrain. I refrained from speaking to myself this one time in the hopes that I may hear water’s splash.

I held my sullied pair of shoes in my left hand. Within three steps, maybe four, of my search, my socks had easily become corrupted. Caked in, wet, and infected with the stickiest of dirts, they grew heavy as they hung off of the skin on my foot.

The worst came when I stepped on the protruding end of a jagged stone, disguised in the shady mass of dirt as but another hill. The moonlight hanging in the sky allowed my vision to make out shapes and water (if I were to find it and if it were to be so helpfully reflected back into my dilated pupils). Though the nocturnal light was bright enough for me to see me hands, I could not confirm that the liquid drooling from my foot was blood.

It did hurt with an incessant stinging sensation. I checked my pockets to see if I had brought any of my many bottles of hand sanitizer. Of course, when needed most, it is not there.

I rested on a downed tree when the pangs of pain reached their worst. I could no longer add weight to the wound. It was now that I had hoped most that any collection of water, pond or puddle, would be within reasonable distance of where I now rested. To clean my wound would be most important, if I had ever hoped to wear another shoe on that particular foot again.

Still, my rotten shoes offended the nose. I assumed this was the reason I had been able to tread the wilderness unbothered by its predators. As supple as my flesh may have appeared, glimmering in the partial darkness, any creature within proximity would surely decline such a spoiled meal.

Strangely enough, I was not entirely unbothered. A woman-like figure appeared behind one of the more curvy trees still standing and stared at me whilst I tended my wound.

A chilling feeling did she so strike into me with her sullen watching. Her presence had been as unwarranted as her gaze, yet she refused to quit her idiosyncratic behavior. Was it that I, a marvel of a man in the civilized world, could still carry enough clout to be the cynosure of even the forested regions of this planet?

I did not know how, but the silence in her morose attendance created such enmity between the two of us, and in time, I grew to resent her for it. Why should she watch me suffer this way? Surely, she knows where the cure to what ails me is, is she too good to help?

So, despite my pain, I stood from that downed log in order to wane off any conceived weakness she may have been led to believe I could have and I shouted to her “Who goes there?”

Silence, did she bark back. I imagined her unable to speak any legible tongue, making it likely that I have only festered the predicament further by speaking so unfamiliarly.

“Why do you stand idle, phantom? Show me water!” I shouted at her once more. I waited a moment, allowing a response whether verbal or mere gesticulation. My foot ailed me greatly and I began to stand with favoritism to its opposite side.

Still, did she stand. She gave me no sign of communication and therefore, no hope. I wondered what evil motive she could come to in leaving a wounded man to his devices. I thought of throwing my shoe, but could not come to find myself so boldly.

Her stagnant nature was most everything but insipid. I feared for the worst possibility, expecting her to amass her shadows into a ghastly whole, exposing a figure resembling more of a demon than phantom.

In time, I grew to fear for my life more than I feared for my foot. When the crickets of the environment were respectful enough to rest their song, I could hear her deep exhales bellowing as a modest, steam powered engine would whistle.

I rushed her. I could wait no longer for her to scare me in such way. I am a man of renown; I deserve some morsel of respect, even in my most humiliating circumscriptions!

Even in my charge, she did not move. She still stood, strong as stock, before me. I could not falter, I have stepped too far and too strongly. To quit now would be to sign my contract of cowardice with the wettest of pens.

The illuminated eyes of the surrounding woodland creatures watched my ambush in its most exciting moments. I thought one would come to intervene. Foolishly, I believed hostility in nature to be its poison, when in fact, it is its most invigorating cure.

I tried, with all my might, to tackle the phantom, but it had been to no advantage. I had surely made contact with the form but I halted abruptly upon impact, as the phantom appeared to be rooted into the ground.

She struck my shoulder with a terrible retaliation, and I fell to the ground in misery. I held on to my shoulder— rubbed it even. It felt rough to the touch, as if my skin had grown scales. Though the nocturnal light was bright enough to see the true hardwood form of the womanly shaped phantom as closely as I laid below her, I could not confirm that the liquid now drooling down my arm was blood.

For only a moment did my arm’s wetness distract me from my rear’s. What is it that I have landed in that has made my bottom so eerily moist? I reached one of my hands around (the one not preoccupied with the task of my shoes) and before I could examine the rump I sit on, my fingers dipped into the same liquid that my palm splashed.

Strange is it that I did not hear myself fall into a small pool of water upon landing. I did not feel the water that I sat in until my hand completed its investigative reconnaissance.

I dipped my shoes into the puddle’s water with a careful fervor. Mostly, the retch of which I had soiled my shoes slid off of the leather. I pulled a handful of grass and lifeless leaves from the forest floor and used it as a sort of brush to clean the more stubborn marks.

Once my shoes were wholly clean and acceptable to be worn once more, I rose to my feet and searched for the way that I came. The shoes were entirely wet, cold enough to make the goosebumps on my arms shiver, but the mud coating my socks did well to keep my feet mostly warm.

I could see no sign of my entry. The tracks I had made were fresh but made no visible path. However, they were stamped in deep enough to leave a lasting impression on the soil. An idea came to me.

On my hands and knees, I could feel the entirety of the mark my weight made, every pound of it. I could not see far in front of me but I could guess where the next mark should be by feeling the mold of my socked foot and the direction in which it aimed.

I crawled for what I would say is one hundred feet, fumbling in the darkness for what could be the next track. Gradually, I could come to make out the distinct sounds of passing vehicles.

I stood to my feet and ran to the sounds the best I could. My foot’s wound would sting under the weight of my pace but I could stand not one more moment in the wooded maze. When I finally reached the well-lit road of the highway, the reality of the situation became clear.

My shoulder was not wounded.

My foot was not bloody.

My shoes were still spoiled.

My socks were not muddy.

I thought of venturing back out into the forest to do all of the things that I thought I had already done, but could not come to find myself so boldly. Yes, I was already outside of my car and entirely capable to correct the issues that had ailed me so, but in this particular instance I thought it would be best not to finish what I had started.

I walked around to the driver side of my vehicle just to see an ominous figure sitting in the driver seat. It had both hands on the wheel with its head directly forward as if driving at this very moment. I eased forward to see who it could be in the seat, cupping my hands around my eyes against the window to eliminate glare. When I could see the truth of the matter, I came to find that the figure sitting in the seat resembled me.

Fear coursed down my neck and into the higher parts of my thighs. This can’t be. His shirt was tainted with blood on the right shoulder. His foot had made a mess of my year-round weather mats. His shoes were assuredly tainted with the mark of sickness and sitting quaintly aside him in the passenger seat.

My shriek was not audible. Stricken with consternation, my voice made the sound of a deflating tire. In my panic, I could not help but retreat from the window. This was a sight I could bare to see no longer.

Unknowingly, I had stepped back onto the middle lane of the interstate freeway. The first car swerved around me, giving me the explicative symbol of a raised center digit. The second car honked with conviction but did not drive in the same lane that I stood frozen. The third car slammed into me and halted abruptly upon impact, ejecting the driver through the windshield and making a mess of the highway with various car parts. I stood stale, however, unmoving from the contact as if… I had been rooted in the ground.